The Death of the American Vacation

About a quarter of workers in this country don't receive any paid vacation time. For those who do get it, the average employee in the United States earns 14 days of time off, according to a recent survey by travel site Expedia. And in the last year, the amount of vacation we receive has grown -- from 12 days last year to 14 days this year -- but sadly we've gone from leaving three days on the table to four days on the table. (Incidentally, the time off we receive is nothing compared to other countries. Brits get 24 days, and the French earn a whopping 39 vacation days, almost eight weeks off.

There are two main reasons we're forgoing some of our vacation time: stress and job security.

For some people it is stress. Sixty-five percent of workers say they have trouble coping with stress before, during and after vacation. The fear of returning to a slew of messages and a massive to-do list is enough to keep some people from never leaving their offices.

Others worry about job security. They fear if they're out of sight, they're also out of mind. So they'd rather just not go away. And in some cases, the boss makes it clear that he doesn't take kindly to having his employees gone for too long. Worrying about scheduling a real vacation keeps many from using all of the vacation time they're entitled to take.

This is typical of baby boomers because they place a heavy value on office face-time. Boomers created the phrase, "If you don't come in on Sunday, don't bother to come in on Monday." They're more likely to forgo the vacation days they're entitled to than younger generations.

With cell phones and Blackberries and WiFi everywhere, we're still linked to the office -- even if we do go away.

About a quarter of all vacationers in this country say they check voicemail or e-mail while on vacation. It's a combination of being expected to keep in touch, as well as a desire to be wanted and to be in the know. In some cases, it's easier to handle things as they come up rather than return to that huge pile of stuff. One in three workers in a recent Travelocity survey said that not checking messages while on vacation was more stressful than the actual work itself. But that doesn't mean you should allow work to overtake your vacation.

Now even savvy employers are saying it's important to get away.

More and more corporations are tracking their employees' vacation time to make sure they take it. For example, companies like the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers employ a kind of "vacation police" to urge employees to take time off. They and other savvy corporations like them believe that a rested, rejuvenated employee is more productive. Almost 40 percent of workers who do take vacations say they feel better about their jobs and more productive at work upon returning from vacation. So getting out of the office is a good thing for you and the boss.

The office will no doubt survive without you and it'll reap the rewards of a well-rested workforce if everyone uses the time they're entitled to.

There are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your getaway from the office.

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